This post will cover a few things, including group size and how it got there.
When I ran Southern Reaches last Friday, I had seven people at the table, which is a large group, but not the largest I’ve been in or run (something I think I’ve talked on before, so I won’t repeat myself here). What I realized two days later at my wife’s birthday party was that there were three other players, founding players in the group, who were not there, meaning I had a ten-player group! I had been thinking of it in terms of who was going to make the game and who wasn’t, not how many players I was dealing with in total.
Now I have to start giving more thought to group maximum size, not just “will I have enough players to run” – an embarrassment of riches as it were. For the moment, I will be putting new player requests onto a Stand-by list. One of my players is moving to Austin (which is a three hour drive) and I don’t think he’ll make every other week, let alone every week, but I could be wrong. Also, once the summer is over, at least two of my players are teachers and may not be regularly available, so I may have some flex in the player roster then.
West Marches-style games seem to work well for this size group. In fact, the original game (whose concept I’m borrowing) ran with even more players running in different groups whenever THE PLAYERS could coordinate a game. I’m no longer in college, so I don’t think I’ll ever reach the point where I can be quite THAT flexible in the scheduling. As a result, I think ten is the maximum number of active players I can handle.
Plus, table space is becoming an issue.
We have a large living room, large enough to place two dinning tables side-by-side, which easily accommodates six players, the DM, books, laptops, the map, and plenty of room for dice rolling. We changed the configuration to a “T” to accommodate seven players. I have no idea how we will get eight to ten players seated. [Actually, I do – I just thought of a way involving a third, folding table from the garage. I think the room is large enough to fit everything. Maybe.] So this is a practical limit to the number of players I can include while maintaining a “whoever shows up, plays” attitude.
Now let’s talk a little bit about how I got to ten players. [My apologies for the history lesson, but we do get to cognizant material at the end.]
I started out running a monthly game using the Hero System, a system I first learned in college and had played exclusively since then. [When I say “started out” I mean “in the early ‘90s, a couple years after I got out of college”.] Then AEG released “The World’s Largest Dungeon”, which looked mighty cool (it isn’t, by the way). I was also participating in the RPGA, first to get some playing time in, then to write modules (running under the theory that I could do better). [I did get three released for the Bandit Kingdoms before the RPGA switched to 4E and Forgotten Realms and I lost interest. I’m not a fan of the Forgotten Realms.] I chatted with some friends about the WLD and said I was interested in running it, but the cost was off-putting. They offered to chip in $10 buck each if I ran, so I did. You can’t get deeper buy-in than the players actually buying in. So I set up a second monthly game day and ran WLD for two years until the PCs found the way out. [That, by the way, is a whole other story.] By the end of that, I had a core group and Paizo was releasing the early drafts of the Pathfinder RPG, so I put together a new campaign and we’re playing that.
Then I read about the West Reaches campaign over on ars ludi and thought, “This sounds awesome.” I was trying to put together a 4E game (very easy to run for the DM) and failing due to a lack of players. I like 4E for the game it is, but when I want to play D&D, right now I’m playing Pathfinder. So I changed the weekly 4E game to Pathfinder, drew up my initial Table Map and asked the players in my monthly groups who would be interested in playing. I immediately had five players and quickly brought in a sixth, which is where I stayed for a couple of months.
Still wanting to get some time in as a player, I joined the group starting up D&D Encounters at my FLGS (Fat Ogre Games, btw). That group cycled through players a bit and stabilized at seven before we: A) stopped playing D&D Encounters, B) went through part of Keep on the Shadowfell and TPK’d under the waterfalls, and C) switched to a player's house to game at (not mine) in the DM's homebrew campaign. There were some issues (which I’m skipping over) and while chatting with one of the players who was new to the area, she asked if there were any other games looking for players that I knew of. I told her, “as it so happens, yes,” and I described my Southern Reaches game. She and her husband were interested and showed up at the next session and fit in great. At a later session of the ex-4E group, we were discussing schedules and when they’d next be able to show up and one of the other players asked about it and if he could join. I said yes. Then a friend of his who had dropped from the 4E game called and asked if HE could join. I said yes and now had ten players.
Now why is that important? I did not set out to recruit new players when I joined the D&D Encounters game – I was just looking for a game I could play in. Once the player mix stabilized, I started thinking about it, but did not want to give the appearance of cannibalizing another DM’s group – that’s poor form and rude to boot. I was looking for a discrete way to ask some of the players if they were interested in joining my game as well as continuing the Wednesday game, but they beat me to the punch.
To be clear: I believe stealing players from a group is wrong. Sharing players is completely legit.
As it is, I have the majority of that group playing in my Southern Reaches game, the other DM stopped showing in “his” game and the host players decided to put together their own Pathfinder game to replace his. First session is tonight and I still need to build a character. Eek!
UPDATE: The game did not happen last night as the new DM was not ready yet. This was OK with me as I needed to take my wife to physical therapy and would have been mighty late to the game if I'd tried to make it. The first session should happen next Wednesday when the new DM is ready and, coincidentally, my wife will be done with daily sessions of PT.